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They certainly cannot have the slightest tendency to recommend our common faith, and I am confident, that they are pregnant with incalculable mischief.
If one of your own Churches is afflicted and annoyed with intestine strife, you do not fail to deplore the injurious consequences upon the surrounding neighbourhood, as well as its individual members. You ardently long and pray for the restoration of peace and concord. And what is confessedly injurious upon a small scale, you should not fail to perceive must be eminently more so upon a larger. All other incidental causes combined do not indeed so deeply wound the general interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, as the emulations and wrath, the jealousies and heart-burnings, the criminations and recriminations of its acknowledged friends. A new convert especially often deems it absolutely indispensable, that he should become the thoroughgoing partisan of his particular sect, and in too many instances the offensive epithets, he applies to others, are felt to be the readiest passports to the confidence and approbation of his seniors in profession. And why should you not be equally engaged in imploring of your heavenly Father speedily to remove these evils, as you are those of a less general and consequently of a less fatal character? It may be, that upon reflection, you will find yourselves less anxiously intent upon the good cause of union than you ought to be; and we know, that secret prayer is rarely offered, and never accepted unless it proceeds from the heart, We know, that however fervent you may be in your other petitions, you must become alike fervent in this, before the world of sinners are destined to be benefited, by your personal example in giving up a party, for the communion and fellowship of the holy catholick or universal Church.
I design not, Brethren, by these observations to afford any just grounds of complaint to our fellow Christians. But faithful, say the scriptures, "faithful are the wounds of a friend," and a friend I avow myself to all, that are godly in Christ Jesus, In this capacity I speak, in this admonish them, that no matter how zealously and profitably they may be now employed in the benevolent labours of love, they could do more as a body towards promoting the everlasting welfare of souls, by the single act of renouncing upon conviction the way of schism, than they will be able to effect, in that state, if their lives could be prolonged to the age of Methuselah,
and their charities be multiplied ten thousand times ten thousand fold. If we may safely judge of the future from the past, wherever they erect an orthodox, posterity will behold a heterodox Church; wherever they found an evangelical, there will rise upon its ruins a non-evangelical school. Such has been proved to be the tendency of their ministry and worship; and so confident I am, of its being the natural consequence of the system they espouse, that I cannot but reiterate the persuasion, and implore them no longer to furnish the incipient causes of the future prosperity and triumph of our mutual antagonists.
More than this, I cannot and I will not urge. Instead of pursuing forebodings not more ungracious to them, than unpleasant to me, I will advert to another theme. I will bid you call to remembrance all that has been advanced in behalf of our venerable Church; and if you concur in opinion with me, that her government and ministry are Apostolick; her rites and sacraments, scriptural; her liturgy, devotional and holy; her doctrines, true and righteous altogether; if the arguments submitted have been followed by the fullest conviction of their clearness and force, my chief object has been successfully accomplished, and a foundation laid for the future welfare of this congregation, which, I have every reason to hope and believe, the lapse of time will only operate to increase rather than diminish.
The course I have taken was commenced under the consciousness, that, wherever intelligence exists, abstract opinions are of little value. I knew that you would require proofs; that you would not be satisfied with naked assertions. But I also knew that those proofs were ready to my hand; that they could be drawn from the scriptures, and corroborated from other sources, in endless profusion. And have I succeeded in making a judicious selection? Have I convinced you, by a statement of facts of incontrovertible weight and authority? Now that the work is finished, whatever may be its subsequent fate, I shall not regret the labour it has cost me. Personal feelings and considerations, from which none of us are entirely exempt, should ever yield, in the minister of Jesus, to an ardent desire to accelerate the march of truth on the one hand, and to retard the progress of errour on the other. With this desire I have written, and with this by the divine blessing I shall publish. Our Church in this western country has long been the theme for
almost universal reproach, a reproach partaking as much of acrimony as derision, and I would fain aspire to the honour of vindicating the purity of her character and the excellency of her institutions. Opposition may ensue. Invective may be called out, But they neither alarm, nor intimidate, nor trouble me. Standing upon firm ground, I am conscious, that it cannot be swept, by mere dint of numbers, from beneath my feet; and I am powerfully encouraged by the reflection, that whenever and wherever we have met our opponents in the fair, open field of controversy, they have been invariably foiled in their arguments. The reason is obvious. Nothing can withstand the mighty force of truth. Power may crush it for a time. The mists of errour may obscure it for a season. But in the sequel, it acquires strength from persecution, repu tation from obloquy, and like the sun emerges from behind the clouds to shine out with redoubled rays of light and glory.
While therefore upon many accounts, I would gladly waive a religious controversy, and rejoice at being permitted to escape serious animadversion; while I would reluctantly challenge any of our Christian brethren to embark in a contest, that might infringe too much upon my usual avocations, yet am I not to be deterred, by any fears of eventual discomfiture, from giving these discourses to the publick, and maintaining them, if necessary, with the spirit, the temper, and the intrepidity becoming a Christian, and especially a steward of the manifold grace of God. Come what come may, "For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth."
In the meantime, Brethren, let me persuade you to reflect, that the circumstance of existing within the pale of the very Church, originally planted by the college of the Apostles, and freely watered with their own, and the blood of numerous worthy confessors"; so far from exonerating you, from the obligation to lead a life of undissembling faith and holiness, should stimulate you to yet higher exertions to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." If there are any Churchmen, who speak a different language, they miserably deceive themselves, and are justly liable to the charge of endeavouring to subvert the faith of others. We recognise no such delusive evasions of duty. We would seriously impress upon your minds, that, in proportion to the peculiar ad
vantages you enjoy, you are called upon to measure the extent of your responsibility.
The Church provides her members with a valid ministry; and they are so much the more inexcusable than others, if they fail to listen to sound doctrine, and irreproveable precepts. She puts into their hands forms of prayer, to be used in publick worship, which are adapted to all their spiritual exigencies, which will enable them to approximate the throne of grace, and supplicate the Lord in an acceptable manner; and if, through any disaffection of their souls to him, they are not found to unite in her solemn services, the more severely will they be judged, and condemned for these omissions. She presents them, in her articles and formularies, with as compendious a system of evangelical doctrine, as it is practicable to obtain from the scriptures of truth, wherein they think they have eternal life; and if they do not treasure it up in their souls, and cause it to regulate their constant belief and practice, yet deeper will the sore displeasure of Almighty God be visited upon them, still more intense will be the consuming fire of his indignation.
Never then, Brethren, no never, suffer yourselves to be so influenced by a vain admiration of the external features of the Church, as to overlook the strong and emphatick terms, in which she importunes and requires you to "walk in newness of life." A more fatal imagination could not beguile you; one that would prove more inimical to your present peace, or more destructive to your future happiness. But in all your principles, and in all your conduct, evince to the world, that your attainments in true religion are not to be excelled, by the most exemplary Christian, that among the dissenters adorns the doctrine of God, our Saviour. It is by a faithful and obedient life, a life of heavenly character and import, that you will most effectually "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men," and baffle the revilings of those, who "falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." I am far from insisting upon loud and boisterous professions. I would not encourage a vain and ostentatious parade of graces, which while they decorate the person correspond not with the internal emotions of the mind and heart; but there are numerous requirements of the law and gospel, through whose strict observance, ye are to become wise unto salvation, and not one of them will cease to conjure you to obey; not one of them can be designedly omitted without incurring the greatest of all
privations, the loss of eternal life. The Church inculcates no other sentiments. They are inseparably connected with the pure and holy living she exacts; and if ye bear true love to her, then will ye not hesitate to make those sentiments your own, then will ye gladly inure yourselves to that pure and holy living.
On the whole, Brethren, no one possessed of reason to discriminate, and the opportunity to judge, can for a moment question the pre-eminent excellence of our beloved Zion. She may be calumniated by bigots of severe and contracted minds. She may be derided by enthusiasts deranged in their intellects. She may be denounced by skepticks having "an evil heart of unbelief." But neither separately nor combined, by craft nor by violence, will they be able to prevail against her, to undermine her foundations, or level her bulwarks to the ground. By the liberal and unprejudiced; by the sober and considerate; by the wise and good; she will ever be regarded, as 66 A CROWN OF GLORY IN THE HAND OF THE LORD, AND A ROYAL DIADEM IN THE HAND OF HER GOD." They will perceive, that for long ages, he has been her shield and her buckler, the impregnable fortress of her strength and the lofty tower of her defence. They will appropriate to her, as I have done, the prophetick language of Isaiah's vow; and although its more brilliant accomplishment may be deferred to the days of millennial felicity, then at least will it unquestionably appear in the sight of men and angels, that HER RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS GONE FORT AS BRIGHTNESS, AND HER SALVATION AS A LAMP THAT BURNETH. AMEN.